HEMA is not for the faint of heart. We are practicing an art where we try to hit one another with steel bars at full speed while following the advice of people that died hundreds of years ago. Effective safety gear not only extends our ability to practice the art, it also allows our practice partners to unleash their techniques without guilt.
Over the past few years, I have put together a kit that stands up to practice and tournaments alike. I take great care in protecting myself, so this equipment list does not spare expense if I believe it to be the best option. I have complete trust in each of these items and can wholeheartedly recommend each.
If you are going to splurge on any piece of equipment for HEMA, I highly recommend doing so on your head protection. Concussions are a real problem and can have a long-term impact on your life. I use a combination of three products to protect my head.
- PBT Warrior Mask – https://www.woodenswords.com/product_p/p-mask.warrior.htm – The best mask I have ever tried. I have taken some very solid hits to the top, side, and front of the mask with no ill effect. The sides extend well back of most masks to provide some protection to the back of the head. I also like that the mask has mesh all the way around to provide air flow when not used with an overlay.
- SPES Back of the Head Protector – https://www.woodenswords.com/product_p/spes-head.backonly.htm – Pairing this with the PBT Warrior mask provides complete coverage of my head from all angles. The back of the head protector has solid plates encased by padding. Once attached (I used a drill and some leather to further secure the top fitting straps to the helmet), I can slip the helmet on and off with one hand without sacrificing protection. I have not taken a hard hit to this yet (would be hard given how far back the PBT Warrior mask goes) but it makes me feel better knowing this is there.
- PBT Warrior Mask Cover – https://www.woodenswords.com/PBT_Warrior_Mask_Cover_p/p-head.warrior.htm – I don’t usually wear this when practicing or using synthetic swords as I prefer the airflow the PBT mask provides without the cover. When sparring full speed with steel, this is a nice add-on that further reduces impact on the top, sides, and back of the head. Might be overkill, but I like my brain and do what I can to protect it.
Winter Tree Crafts Steel Gorget – http://www.wintertreecrafts.com/items/gorget.html – This gorget provides outstanding neck protection. I chose to add the lobster tail option for more protection. I highly recommend this product as it is priced very fair for a steel gorget. A gorget is a required piece of neck protection equipment for most tournaments. If you imagine someone thrusting a steel sword into your windpipe with full force then you can quickly see why. There are many gorgets on the market, but I feel most safe with a steel option.
SPES Hussar Jacket – https://www.woodenswords.com/SPES_Hussar_Jacket_800N_p/spes-jacket-hussar.htm – I originally got this jacket due to the built-in forearm protection. I always found separate forearm protection to be bulky and interfered with my wrist mobility. The jacket is HEAVY, but the protection is top notch. I removed the optional padding that it comes with to improve breathability and I have not missed it. I have taken some very solid hits and thrusts with no bruising to show. This jacket makes me feel like a tank. If anything, it may be a bit too much protection and I have been eying some jackets that will give me some more mobility. Still, if you want to be safe, this jacket does the job and does it well.
Koning Gloves – https://www.saintmark.se/product/the-koning-glove/ – I have tried a number of gloves and these are my favorite by far. I wrote a two year review of them that you can find here https://hemaenthusiast.com/2019/10/11/koning-gloves-2-year-review/. Once broken in, I don’t think you can do better. Unfortunately they do not appear to be available right now.
Superior Fencing Thigh Protection Skirt – http://www.supfen.com/home.html – This works well for me and I like the fact that it has a buckle rather than a dual ring attachment system like the SPES option. This protects against hits to the hips and thighs very well. I actually added this to my kit after taking a very hard shot to my right thigh in a tournament that left a nasty bruise. The price for individual items from Superior Fencing is very good, but the shipping is expensive and takes some time. I got this when my school put a large order together.
Knees and Shins:
Catcher Leg Guards – https://smile.amazon.com/Easton-Gametime-Catchers-Guard-Silver/dp/B07FMN8SSJ – These are not the exact guards I use as I don’t think they make them anymore but they are the same brand. I picked mine up from a used sporting equipment store for about $20 and they work great. Make sure you get something that wraps around your knee and leg to protect against side shots.
Reebok Steel Toe Shoes – https://workboots.com/reebok-sublite-cushion-work-alloy-toe-black – This is probably overkill, but I wear these when in tournaments to protect my feet from low hits or grappling injuries.
I wear an athletic cup purchased from my local sports store. These are usually required for tournaments and are simply a good idea.
Protective gear in HEMA is usually a compromise between safety, mobility, and price. My advice is to take your time, try items before purchasing if possible, and make the decision that works best for you. If you plan on participating in tournaments, you may wish to check the gear requirements to ensure whatever you settle on will be allowed before you purchase.